Q&A with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 09 Nov 2011
With just two races left of what has been a thrilling season, it will come as no surprise that the paddocks attention is increasingly turning towards 2012 and beyond, with talk about regulations and more dominating the build-up to this weekends 2011 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone in on Wednesday, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh discussed resource restrictions, third cars, aerodynamics, young driver tests and Jenson Buttons recent success
Q: Given the recent discussions about the resource restriction agreement, what are your thoughts on cost control measures in the sport? Do you think it is still as high a priority as when it was introduced?
Martin Whitmarsh: Yes I do. The statistics that I live by are the ones that since McLaren entered Formula One its been quite moderately successful - winning over a quarter of the races and on the podium for more than half of them - and during that time 101 teams have disappeared from the sport. I think that really demonstrates the volatility of the sport. We have in the last few years evolved from being pretty much a sub-set of the automotive sector to being pretty well back to a more pure Formula One set of businesses. I think we shouldnt underestimate how tough it is for the smaller teams. It is fine for perhaps some of the bigger teams, who feel quite confident about their future, but the fact is we need ten or 12 teams in the sport to race against. I personally think that to generate grid size with three-car teams - I understand why some people are attracted to that, and if it was necessary it has some interest to McLaren - is the wrong solution for Formula One. Formula One requires the diversity of entry. And I think we therefore have to work hard to ensure that there are sustainable business models for all of the teams that are in Formula One.
Q: Do you think Formula One needs to change and become less dependent on aerodynamics and get back to being more in touch with developments that could be applied to road cars as well?
MW: I think that we have to be relevant to the automotive sector. And we have to be seen to be socially relevant. I think in 2014 we are introducing downsized turbo-charged engines. Theres some interesting further KERS technology. They are very relevant. I think safety systems and structures are very relevant. And now, as an automotive producer ourselves, we are very aware of the level to which the technology and IP thats developed in Formula One is applicable in our road car production. There will always be some debate about aerodynamics, but the fact is that it is a large performance differentiator. And although in some areas it may not be particularly relevant to the automotive sector, it creates an interest. I personally find the development of new hybrid systems, complex structures and suspensions etc. very interesting, but I have to say our consumers - even though they are great fans - would have great difficulty in seeing any of that, whereas the controversy etc. around innovative aerodynamic features are very evident and I think they make up the fabric of the technical debate that surrounds our sport. Of course we could do a better job of talking about those hidden areas, but aerodynamics will remain an integral part of our sport.
Q: Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo was very firm over the weekend in saying Ferrari were not interested in compromising in discussion over the future regulations of the sport. How much of a threat does it pose to the unity of the Formula One teams?
MW: In fairness to Luca, I think Lucas an extremely charismatic figure within Ferrari, within Italy and within motorsport. I know how off-the-cuff comments can be construed and amplified. I think he is passionate about Formula One. I think hes very proud of Ferraris history and heritage, and he will inevitably push with great passion his personally-held opinions and views. I think on day-to-day business Formula One is much better when the teams and the governing body work together to design regulations. I think we've demonstrated over the last three years slightly calmer environments, without paying too much attention to external rhetoric, and I think we've made some good decisions. I think the show that we generate has improved, there is much more overtaking, and weve had some great races in the last two years. I think we should be very proud of that, and thats been achieved by the teams working together with the FIA to develop sporting and technical regulations to achieve those ends.
Q: You are expected to field Gary Paffett at the young driver test next week. As hes no stranger to Formula One power, what will be his main focus? And will you be running any other drivers?
MW: We will probably run Oliver Turvey who is also a McLaren young driver. The main focus will be on giving them a little bit more exposure to Formula One and for people to be aware of them. Then on a technical level we will have a programme with Pirelli. Pirelli are now completing their first season in Formula One. They have got to be congratulated for what they have contributed to the sport. They came in fairly late with a big challenge and a lot of question marks over what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. I think we owe them quite a lot of time so we can develop the tyres. I think their tyres have contributed significantly to the show. Certainly they have contributed to the engineering challenge - and the driver challenge. We have agreed to run an extensive programme for them.
Q: Jenson Button was your first signing as McLaren team principal. Have his performances this season been a particular source of satisfaction for you?
MW: I am delighted with both of our drivers. Ive known Lewis since he was 11 years old. A lot of people underestimated Jenson. A lot of people thought he was making a mistake to pitch himself head-to-head against Lewis and he has done an outstanding job. The whole team are delighted we have signed a multi-year contract with him. Hes very polite, hes relaxed in himself and I think that deceives people into believing hes not hungry for success. But in our team - and with a tough team mate like Lewis - hes been able to demonstrate his skills. Its been great for the sport seeing the pair racing each other and really wanting to beat each other. And out of the car, and within the team, they work incredibly well together. It could be perceived as team spin but they really do get on with each other. They have different priorities in how they go racing, but they are both great drivers, they both want to win and they will have another great contest next year.
For Formula One and F1 team merchandise, click here.